Research:Modelling Behaviour in a Peer Production Economy upon Evidence from Wikipedia

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Duration:  ?? – 2020-July

This page documents a proposed research project.
Information may be incomplete and may change before the project starts.

The growth and success of volunteer-driven online communities in providing specific forms of public goods such as free knowledge, open-source software and open access to learning materials has attracted research attention to better understand the participants' behaviour in such environments. While several studies on the motives for participation[1][2] and the nature of cooperation[3] exist and partly offer answers to important questions, the literature is still short of coherent approaches to acquiring information about participants' preferences as an input in models explaining the optimal strategy for participation in a peer production economy. That said, it is challenging to implement a comprehensive approach towards revealing motives and preferences as useful indicators on how the future participation in the project might change.

This research project aims to develop a model for optimal decision-making on Wikipedia as a successful example of a peer-producing environment based on the findings from an experiment designed to elicit risk preferences and utilities of the project's volunteer editors. For that reason, it is assumed that editors face two major decisions – the extent of their future activity and the nature of their future activity. The model for deriving an optimal strategy capturing the foregoing decisions is envisioned as a four-stage process. Firstly, a field experiment will be designed to examine the social motives for volunteer participation[4] with particular attention to public goods games for cooperation and reciprocity. Secondly, utility functions and risk preferences will be defined from a set of risks identified with regards to the revealed motives. Thirdly, a utility-maximisation model will be set up and the optimality criteria under different circumstances are discussed. Lastly, the model will be calibrated with data coupled on the same sample of Wikipedia editors used for the experiment.


The editors will be sampled from the pool of contributors to all language editions over Wikipedia's entire history and will be classified into groups based on their longevity on the project.


The project has the following goals:

  • revealing the social motives for volunteering to Wikipedia
  • revealing editors' (dis)utilities and risk preferences
  • understanding how participation might develop in future


The timeline for the project is as follows:

  • Formulation of the research topics (January 2020) Done
  • Development of the theoretical model (February – May 2020)
  • Designing and conducting the experiment (March – April 2020)
  • Calibrating the model with results from the experiment (May – June 2020)
  • Drawing the main conclusions from the research (June – July 2020)

The project has been put on hold and the conferences were cancelled due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Wikimedia Policies, Ethics, and Human Subjects Protection[edit]

This project and the researchers involved in it will fully and consistently comply with the Wikimedia Foundation's open access and privacy policy.


  1. Lerner, J. & J. Tirole (2002). "Some simple economics of open source". The Journal of Industrial Economics. 50 (2): 197-234. Open access
  2. Lakhani, K. R. & E. von Hippel (2003). "How open source software works: “free” user-to-user assistance". Research Policy. 32 (6): 923-943. Open access
  3. Algan, Y,; Benkler, Y.; Fuster, M. & J. Hergueux (2013). "Cooperation in a Peer Production Economy Experimental Evidence from Wikipedia". Workshop on Information Systems and Economics. 1-31. Open access
  4. see Fehr, E. & C. F. Camerer (2004). "Measuring Social Norms and Preferences using Experimental Games: A Guide for Social Scientists". Foundations of Human Sociality. 1 (9): 55–96. Open access